Feb. 23, 2011
One last hurrah
By David Boyce
One night will hardly do justice to what senior Elijah Allen has meant to the Northwest Missouri State men's basketball program.
"I've always taken the approach that it's the journey and all the different practices and all the different games," Northwest coach Ben McCollum said. "One night doesn't do all that. It's just more of a symbolic gesture.
"I like to honor the players, but I don't look into it too much. That's how I am. We appreciate seniors and former Bearcats more than anyone. However, one night is just kind of another night."
Wednesday night against Southwest Baptist will be the last time Allen puts on a Northwest basketball jersey at Bearcat Arena.
Over the last four seasons, Allen has gone from a 6-foot-4 forward averaging 3.1 points as a freshman to double-digits the next three seasons. His rebounding average has climbed each year.
He's played for two coaches - first for Steve Tappmeyer for two seasons and the last two for Ben McCollum.
Allen has experienced the feeling of winning the MIAA Tournament and a first-round game in the South Central Regional as a freshman to not making it his sophomore and junior years to trying to pull the underclassmen this year to the final spot in the MIAA Tournament.
True, one night doesn't really reflect the ups and downs or the personal growth on and off the court.
But when Northwest takes the court around 7:30 p.m. tonight in an important game against Southwest Baptist, plenty of memories will run through Allen's mind.
"It's definitely a big day for me, being here for four years and sticking with it through thick and thin," Allen said. "It shows a lot about the type of person I am, my dedication to the team. It's a very big night for me."
Allen brings a 14.5 scoring average and a team-leading 6.6 rebounding average into the game.
Another quality beyond the stats sticks with Allen no matter the circumstances and it is just as vital for the Bearcats: attitude.
Allen is one of those people who finds the positive in a negative situation and has the sunny disposition that offsets a bleak landscape.
It definitely looked bad for the Bearcats when they lost 12 of their first 14 MIAA games. The thought of making a run for the eighth spot of the conference tournament seemed remote at best.
But Northwest has won five of its last seven. The Bearcats enter the game against Southwest Baptist with a 9-15 overall record, 7-13 in the MIAA. Southwest Baptist is 11-15 and 8-12 and is also fighting for the last spot of the tournament.
"That's why we started to win again was just because of that attitude," McCollum said. "He takes blame. He takes ownership of the issues instead of putting it on somebody else.
"Again, that is contagious. The younger kids see that. He's not blaming anybody else but himself. That's why we were able to turn it around because of that positive attitude."
Allen admits losing is tough. He had high hopes coming into the season. He wanted to play in another MIAA Tournament before he left Maryville. After all, the first one was so enjoyable for him, even in a limited role.
But anybody who has played sports knows that preseason plans can turn dramatically different once the competition begins.
It's how the player or the team handles that adversity that really marks their character more than what the final scoreboard says.
"It was difficult," Allen said of the losing, "but as a leader on the team I had to be a positive role model. If I'm down it would trickle down to them, too. It was definitely hard at times, but there were some positive aspects in the season and that helped out as well."
The good times began when Northwest went to Fort Hays State and knocked off the highly-ranked Tigers. That triggered the five wins in six games until Northwest lost on Saturday at Central Missouri.
"It kind of shows what the team is capable of doing, competing on a consistent basis," Allen said. "It has been great the last couple of weeks. We are practicing hard and buying in to what coach is saying."
The Bearcats need to win their last two games and then need some help to reach the MIAA Tournament.
Whatever happens in the final week of the regular season, it has been a great ride for Allen. He's gotten everything he's put into his four years. He expects to get his degree in business management this summer
"It will mean a lot because not that many people in my family have one," he said. "It will mean a lot to my family. Even going to college is an accomplishment in my family."
Allen grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He described the part of the city he lived in as kind of rough. It was certainly drastically different than Maryville.
Cultural shock is the way he described his initial feeling when he started at Northwest in the fall of 2007.
Allen was simply amazed when he saw former Northwest coach Steve Tappmeyer consistently leave his keys in the car unattended. That's not a wise move in any city.
"I didn't understand why people were so nice," Allen said. "I really appreciate the coaches I've had here. They have helped me out. It has been great."
Allen understands the personality of Maryville now. But his easy-going demeanor has probably rubbed off on just as many people during his days in Maryville.
"He has a great personality," McCollum said. "Anybody who comes in contact with him enjoys him. He's an extremely hard worker and a great player. We would love to have him for two more years."
But it is nearly time for Allen to move on. But before he goes he hopes he can help the Bearcats win their last two games and get into the MIAA Tournament. It starts with Southwest Baptist.
"It's not a normal game, but if we go out and take the approach that it is and just focus on one possession at a time and not the outcome, then we will be fine."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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